2017 in Review for Endurance Sports

2017 was an interesting year for road races and endurance events. These are some of the key stories, news you may have missed, and personal profiles from the year.

Weather Impacts on Events 

Weather events continue to be a serious concern for race organizers. Numerous races were cancelled or rescheduled due to weather or nature-related incidents. 2017 started with an unprecedented cancellation of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon due to lightening storms. The Mississippi Blues Marathon was cancelled in January due to bad road conditions from a winter storm. Multiple west coast events were impacted by wildfires. The inaugural Virgin Sport Festival of Fitness and Half Marathon in San Francisco was cancelled in October due to concerns about air quality and in the interest of not pulling government officials and public safety staff away from responding to nearby fires. The Everglades Half Marathon in Florida was cancelled in November (over a month before the race weekend) due to flooding from Hurricane Irma. And in December, Race 13.1's Durham, NC races were cancelled due to poor road conditions from a winter storm. Other events rescheduled around blizzards, forest fires and hurricanes when possible and as permits allowed.

Kathrine Switzer Returns to Boston

At age 70, Kathrine Switzer returned to the Boston Marathon, 50 years after she became the first woman to run the marathon with a registered bib. In 1967, she registered with her initials K.V. instead of her full name to avoid detection, as at this time in history, women were not allowed in the Boston Marathon. Katherine leads the foundation 261 Fearless, honoring her bib number from that day 50 years ago, to empower female athletes around the world through running. Her bib #261 was retired by the Boston Marathon Association. Also amazing- her 2017 finish time at age 70 was 4:44:31- only 24 minutes slower than her time five decades ago.

Ironman Purchases Competitor Group 

In June, Wanda Group (also known as Dalian Wanda), the owner of the Ironman triathlon race series, acquired Competitor Group Holdings, Inc., which owns the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series. CGI also owns media titles VeloNews, Women's Running, Triathlete, and Competitor, and the Race IT event registration service. As a part of the acquisition, CGI closed their San Diego headquarters and laid off over 100 employees. Ironman is based in Tampa, FL. Ironman is now the largest global race organizer. Read the press release here.

World OutGames Collapses, Stranding Athletes 

In May, Miami was supposed to host the World OutGames, a multi-day sporting event with cultural aspects and a human rights conference, under the license of GLISA (Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association). Instead, athletes from around the world arrived to find almost all sporting events abruptly cancelled with one day's notice. The Miami Herald reported that investigations found shoddy accounting, questionable records, and obvious signs than the event was severely underfunded. Bay Area Reporter Roger Brigham covered the debacle throughout the summer. Local government officials and sporting teams tried to step in and offer alternative events whenever possible, but some events (such as the triathlon and road races) could not be salvaged. Most athletes filed dispute cases with their credit card companies to get refunds. The event's implosion happened a year after the 2016 North American OutGames in St. Louis were also canceled. GLISA, the parent licensing organization, has since taken down their website.

RunDisney Suspends California Races 

Athletes suspected something unusual was going on when online registration for 2018 Disneyland races was put on hold for months. Rumors buzzed in runner social media groups about the delay, and athletes expressed concerns about making travel plans and reservations for uncertain events. October 18th, RunDisney officially confirmed that Disneyland races would be suspended until further notice, citing on-property construction projects as the reason the events would not be held. In addition, the Coast to Coast Race Challenge was suspended (athletes who completed a half marathon at each Disney park in the same calendar year would receive a special medal). Read the official press release here. The Disneyland Resort hosted four race weekends- the Star Wars Light Side, Tinkerbell, Disneyland, and Super Heroes race weekends. Each weekend had a 5K, a 10K, and a half marathon.

Athletes Prove Age is Just a Number 

Only ten people are invited annually to the world's longest foot race- the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race in Queens, NY. This 52-day race requires participants to cover an average of 60 miles a day to finish, and the course is roughly 5,649 laps of one extended city block. This year, the race had a finisher like no other- Yolanda Holder. Ms. Holder is a recognized race walker, with many event wins and world records under her belt. She was the oldest entrant ever in the race at age 59, was the first ever pure walker (Ms. Holder does not run), and just the second American woman to participate. Many doubted she would finish- and she proved them all wrong. She walked with her characteristic smile, while sharing encouraging online social media posts, inspiring people around the world. She completed this achievement just having started in the sport of marathons at age 50. Read her New York Times profile here.

In December, another familiar face on the marathon circuit achieved an incredible milestone- 2,000 lifetime marathons. Larry Macon, at age 72, crossed the finish line at Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon in December, celebrating this accomplishment which he reached after just 20 years of running. At age 52, his marathon career began, and now Mr. Macon has completed races in all 50 states multiple times. Read about his 2,000th marathon finish here.

In Memoriam: Harriette Thompson 

Harriette Thompson, the oldest known female marathoner, passed away in October at age 94. Harriette was a favorite on the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego course, completing the marathon at age 91 and 92 (while going through treatment for carcinoma). At age 94, she became the oldest known person to finish a half marathon. In addition to her place in history in the sport, she will be remembered for her generosity as a Team in Training fundraising athlete, and for her smiling face and positive attitude on the course. Here is her obituary in the New York Times.

A Historic Win at the New York City Marathon 

 It was a magical moment of tears, joy and celebration. Shalane Flanagan, at age 36, became the first American women in 40 years to win the New York City Marathon. This moment was a lifetime dream come true for Ms. Flanagan, and the inspiration both the city and the nation needed. Just a week earlier, a terror attack on a Manhattan bike path killed eight people. This decorated American Olympian with multiple race records adds this victory to an amazing running career.

Earning Companion Pass and A-List Status on Southwest Airlines

In my book, I teach people how to earn points to fly for free on Southwest Airlines.  I use a variety of methods to earn free Rapid Rewards points that can be redeemed for free air travel.

In addition to getting several free flights in 2016, I earned enough points and made enough credit card purchases to earn two special status levels with Southwest Airlines: A-List and Companion Pass.

Companion Pass

Southwest Airlines' Companion Pass status is a level where the status earner can choose a person to fly for free with them on all flights for the following year.  This status actually kicks in when you earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.  This means if you hit Companion Pass status on April 1, 2017, you have this status from that day through December 31, 2018! What an amazing benefit. This companion can be ANYONE- your spouse, your child, your best friend, etc. 

Once you select your Companion pass designated person, you enter that person's information on your Southwest account online and register him/her as your traveling companion.  To travel with this person, you have to book reservations for your companion on the same exact legs as you're on for every flight (you book yourself first then add the person- do it sooner than later so the flight doesn't sell out).  That person still has to pay the $5.60 government fee for each one-way flight leg.  

The fastest, easiest way to earn points is using the Chase Southwest Airlines Chase Rapid Rewards Credit Card for every purchase you can.  Your purchases earn a Rapid Rewards point for every dollar spent.  

Don't have the Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card? 

Limited time promotion (click to apply)-  Earn 40,000 bonus points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card- when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.(This offer is subject to credit approval. Please read website for full conditions and details.)

The key to earning as many points as possible via the credit card is to use it for as many transactions as you feel comfortable.  Think- online purchases, everyday purchases, gas, bill payments, medical expenses, etc.  The important important thing is to not go into debt to earn free flights. I set aside the cash to pay for the purchases I make on my rewards credit card, and then pay it off each month.  Going to debt for free travel defeats the purpose.

The current Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card is black. If you have the older blue card and you cancelled it, you may be eligible for this new card and get the bonus points offer again, even if you already have in the past.

Other tips:
  • Use the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal (found on the Rapid Rewards website) to earn points via online purchases made through their portal.
  • Use Rapid Rewards Dining to get points while dining out at restaurants.
  • Set your hotel rewards programs to give you airline points instead of or in addition to hotel points.
  • Fill out online surveys through companies like E-Rewards, E-miles and Valued Opinions to earn points.
  • Use partner rental car companies, hotels and transportation shuttle services to earn rewards points.

(Looking for detailed, step-by-step instructions? There's a dedicated chapter to flying for free or cheap in my book- links to the right.)

So how do both you and your Companion Pass person fly for free?  Easy!  When you book your reservation, book it using the points you worked to earn.  Then, add your Companion and book his/her reservation.  (Note- when using points, you still have to pay for the $5.60 security fee).


A-List is a special status you hit when you earn 35,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or 25 one-way flights.  These points are earned from qualifying points from flights and specific transactions.

Why hit A-List?  We have special benefits like Priority Boarding; a Priority Lane at the ticket counter check-in; free same-day standby; a 25% bonus on all points earned from flights; and a dedicated A-list Member phone support line.

I think you're more likely to hit A-List from flights versus points. Here's how to better hit 25 one-way flights in a year, especially if you fly for work:
  • Book all of your flights one-way instead of round-trip.  The security fees are the same and you get two different confirmation numbers, but you can be sure each flight counts as a one-way.
  • Are you carrying on all of your bags, and you have a connecting flight?  Book four one-ways.  For example: if you are flying from Boston to Los Angeles and you are traveling through Chicago, check out the flight legs and book each leg separately: Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Los Angeles; then to get home, Los Angeles to Chicago, and Chicago to home.   Do this carefully to ensure you have enough time to get to your connecting flight.  It is recommended to do this only if you are not checking bags.  If you are checking bags, pick flights with at least a two-hour gap in between arrival time and departure time, as you will have to go redeem your bags at baggage claim and then check them into your new flight.  You will also have to pay twice the airport security fees, but to me it's worth it.
  • Research trips to see if you're better off flying than driving to get your rewards points.  For example, I've found it often to be cheaper to fly to either Washington DCA Airport or Baltimore BWI airport and rent a car versus driving my own car down to the Baltimore/DC area for an event.

Dear Race Directors and Athletes- From Your Pace Group Leader

If you have participated in or watched half or full marathons across the country, you may see some runners with large signs with numbers on them.  These are pace group leaders- runners who finish the race within a minute of a specific goal time.  They help others on the course by providing a guidepost for those that want to finish by that specific time.  They also provide company to those out on the course who may otherwise be alone.  

I have the joy of pacing with three different organizations and it's been a great experience. I've paced half marathon groups for 2:45, 3:00, 3:30 and sweeper (dead last finisher).   I work for one of the largest and best national pacing companies- Beast Pacing- which provides pacing teams for half and full marathons across the country and for large series like the Hot Chocolate races.  I also work for two regional race organizers that provide their own pacers.

Pace group leader signs for half and full marathon times

Race Directors: How We Can Help You

What are the advantages of having pace teams at your event?

We are experienced runners who can help your participants achieve their goal finish times, including Boston Qualifying times.  

We can help participants avoid going out too fast at the start, and avoid burning out on hills.  

We can help other participants come in under a time limit.  If your course time limit is three hours, the 3:00 pacer will show other participants where the end of the race is and can help encourage participants to the finish.

You can have a pacer serve as the last finisher.  One of the pacing positions often used is called the “Sweeper.”  It is that person’s job to be the dead-last finisher.  There’s an advertising point to participants- "you won’t be last; we have someone for that!" (Think of how many people are afraid to be last.)  Also, your volunteers and your police details can see where the end of the race really is.  

Pacers are often stacked in times that allow participants to drop back to another pace team if the one they are with is too fast for them, or if they feel themselves slowing down.  For example, someone may start with a 2:15 pace team and fall back to join a 2:30 group.  Other participants may have a goal time in between the pace team times and will choose to stay in between the groups, keeping the one in front of them in their view as a reference.  As we pass people on the course who are falling behind, we invite them to join our group or offer cheers and support.

Having pace group leaders is not a violation of USATF rules.  Since organized/official pace teams are available to all race participants, there is no USATF conflict.  The rule violation is if one individual has his/her own pacer, such as a runner or a cyclist on the course.

Experienced pacers know their exact pace for each mile, let their group know if they are ahead at each mile marker, and are often wearing two GPS devices just in case one fails.  

Pacers are conscious of the weather conditions, traffic, and course safety.  Pacers will remind participants to hydrate.  We will ask participants to not run wide across the course so others who want to pass are not blocked.  We will also remind participants to be sensitive of their safety, especially on open courses.  We’re often shouting to those ahead of us to warn them about oncoming cars.

Occasionally we have to be the voice of reason and experience to a runner who is medically struggling on a course.  We have advised participants who are clearly injured or in medical danger to stop at an aide or medical station.  

When you choose your pace slots- don't forget the back of the back. Some half marathons have pacers just go up to 2:00 or 2:30. Slower paces can benefit from pace groups just as much as faster groups can. 

If you need verification of how much pace teams are worth having at your event- watch the pacers that get hugs from members of their group at the finish line; watch the pacers that are asked to pose for photos; or look for the thanks the pacers get on your race’s social media pages.  To a pacer, that finish line hug is the ultimate sign of a job well done.

The Celebrate Life Half Marathon Pace Team (Rock Hill, NY). Photo credit: Adam Osmond.

To Athletes- From Your Pace Group Leader

Being a pace group leader in a race is a privilege and an honor. It is an amazing opportunity to help other people out. Most of us are doing it because we want to help others achieve their race goals.

Yes, most pacers get their race entry for free for their services. We are not paid. The free entry covers for what we are doing- coming in (usually within a minute of) a specific time to serve as a guide for those on the course. We're racing for others, not for us. We are getting a comped entry for our service, like someone may get a free entry for volunteering.

Most of us pace 20 to 30 minutes slower than our regular race times (depending upon the distance) so we are at what is an "easy" pace for us, meaning we can talk and interact with people comfortably for the whole race.

Most of us take our pacing very seriously. We don't want to let people down. We're checking where we are at each mile. We're learning the names of everyone we are with and cheering them on. We're telling bad jokes, celebrating when we're halfway there, pointing out the last 5K, and psyching people up for the last mile. We're reminding you to hydrate and asking how everyone is doing.

Pacers are a guide. We are not a replacement for poor or inadequate training. You need to have an idea of what your pace is. If you don't know your pace and your estimated finishing time, whether you run, walk or do a mix- you didn't train correctly.

Sometimes people line up with the wrong pace group and are over-ambitious and then bonk out. If you run a 2:30 half marathon and you start with the 2:00 group, you are going to have a lousy experience.  Others will try to stay in front of us with their goal being that they want to be ahead of us the whole time.  I think you will be better off staying with us for at least the first half of a race and then pull ahead later, so you don’t use up all your energy up front.

If you didn't train- we are not miracle workers.  It's a pace sign, not a magic wand.

I tell people: race the way you trained. If you're a Galloway person (you do run/walk intervals) and I'm straight running, we're going to cross back and forth a lot, but we will balance out. Don't switch to straight running just because I am, because you're going to ruin your race.

Most of us opt to not pace a race we have never done before. In the case of an inaugural event, we'll drive the course the day before (if roads allow) to get a feel for it to see where the hills are and what the roads are like. We know where the hill from hell is. We know where the water stops are.

If we are alone on the course, we are not "doing it wrong." In some smaller races and for some of the later pace groups, we are often occasionally alone. This is what is happening... We have people in front of us who are looking back to make sure we are still behind them, and their goal is to stay in front of us. Or, we have people behind us who are keeping us in their sight. We're still the guidepost and we're still maintaining our pace.

Some people do better following a pace group by using them as an indicator rather than staying with them. Some people realize halfway through a race that our group is too slow for them and they go ahead. Some people will catch up to us and pass us in the last miles. Some people don't want to be around others and stay just behind us.

Pacers may finish alone. At mile 12.8, I might tell you to take off if you have it in you.  Some pace groups pick up people who fell back from a later pace group or went out too fast. If I am pacing in a sweeper position, I stay behind whoever is last and finish behind them. 

Pacers are human. It is rare, but occasionally a pacer gets sick, gets a cramp, trips/falls/gets hurt, or for some reason cannot continue and has to drop out. We apologize to our group and get off the course at the nearest water stop.

Pacers have different strategies. Some do straight run through and slow down through water stops, while others walk the uphills and the water stops. The strategy may change from race to race based on the time being paced and based on the nature of the course. Pacers should be telling their groups what their strategy is before the start.

Our goal time is based on when we crossed the start mat, not when the clock started (chip time). Don't panic if clocks on the course or at the finish makes us look off (gun time). This also means if you started well ahead of us in a larger race, we could be a minute or more off from each other.  If I catch up to you, my time will be faster than yours.  The exception is for races that are gun-time only (meaning there is no starting mat time captured and the finish times are based on when the race starts).

If your expectations about what a pace group can do for you are realistic then we're going to have a great time!